Many Swedes have trouble with gambling for money and risk developing a gambling addiction. Slot machines and online gambling are the most addictive and can result in an illness comparable to alcohol or drug addiction.
What is gambling addiction?
About two percent of Swedish adults suffer from gambling problems and gambling addiction. “Gambling problems” mean that the gambling is out of control and has negative consequences on a person’s life. It can damage a person’s health and social life, and lead to financial problems. If a person has a gambling problem, there is also a risk of developing a gambling addiction.
Gambling addiction, or game of chance syndrome, is a mental illness that is comparable to alcohol and drug addiction. As with other addictions, the brain’s reward system is disordered. To be diagnosed with gambling addiction, the person must have tried to reduce or quit their gambling unsuccessfully. Not being able to gamble can produce feelings of restlessness and irritation.
Other symptoms of gambling addiction may be gambling for bigger and bigger sums, wanting to take revenge when one loses and constantly thinking about gambling or how to obtain more money for gambling. Many people gamble in order to alleviate negative feelings such as anxiety or depression.
How does this affect a person’s life?
Gambling addiction has a large impact on the sick person and those around them. It’s common to start lying, even to family and friends, in order to hide the addiction. Eventually it is often relatives who need to deal with the economic crisis caused by the addiction, which damages many relationships. When gambling becomes the only thing that’s important, it’s easier to commit crimes to obtain money. The lifestyle may make a person no longer able to work or study.
Many people with a gambling addiction also have other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or alcohol problems. This can easily lead to negative spirals that cause the gambling to escalate. In many cases, the addiction is not about winning money, but rather about experiencing the high that comes from a reward.
Is it possible to feel better?
Gambling addiction is a growing public health problem and has led to a new law. Starting on 1 January 2018, people with gambling problems will have the same right to help and support as people with alcohol and drug problems. This also entails a responsibility for society to prevent gambling problems.
Being a slave to gambling harms a person’s life in many ways. What is needed for the affected person and their family to feel better is to put a stop to it. It is possible to turn off the online gambling feature or get rid of your computer or phone for awhile.
Support from close relatives and talking with other gambling addicts can be beneficial, and reduce the feeling of loneliness. Engaging in other things that feel meaningful also helps to combat the focus on gambling.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis can be made by a physician or psychologist if they judge that the person meets a sufficient number of criteria for the disease. If you suspect that you or a relative are suffering from gambling addiction and want an evaluation, you can contact a healthcare centre or psychiatric outpatient clinic, which may refer the sick person to a specialist in gambling addiction as needed.
Motivational conversation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are two examples of treatments for gambling addiction. Treatment may take place individually, in a group or online. It is also important to learn to recognise and manage relapses of the illness.